Dogs and their owners take to Willard Beach in South Portland shortly after 3 p.m. when dogs don’t need to be leashed.. Drew Johnson / The Forecaster

SOUTH PORTLAND — After months of public debate, the South Portland City Council passed an amendment to the city’s dog laws.  

The council voted on amending Chapter 3, “Animals and Fowl,” and Chapter 18, “Parks and Recreation,” regarding dogs and open spaces. The council amended and passed the first reading on May 3 and May 17. The motion passed after a lengthy community discussion where numerous South Portland residents voiced concerns that revolved around when dogs were permitted at Willard Beach. Residents talked about their problems with the city’s new dog laws.  

The amendment includes approximately 20 additions and adjustments. They allow dogs on the beach from 7 to 9 a.m. and from 7 to 9 p.m. The rules run from May 1 through Sept. 30. However, from 7 to 8 p.m., dogs must be on a leash.  

Dogs will be allowed at Willard Beach all day from Oct. 1 through April 30 but must be leashed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dogs at Hinckley Park must be leashed from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. year-round.  

Dogs are also prohibited from athletic fields and fenced-in-playgrounds. Owners are required to pick up and properly dispose of their dog’s waste and prohibit dogs and owners from crossing city sand dunes. They require that a dog that acts aggressively toward people or other dogs and does not consistently come when commanded must be leashed when not on private premises.

If an owner or keeper has three or more dogs, at least one dog must be on a leash. If they have four or more dogs, all must be leashed, and for areas where dogs are allowed off-leash, dogs must be always under voice and sight control and be within 50 feet of their owner or keeper.  


“I am very disappointed that we have to continually revisit this issue that is essentially a non-issue,” said resident Cynthia Rubinoff-Myers. “Allowing our family members, our dogs to play without restraints on our only beach is not a huge problem. I really don’t understand why it has become such a huge problem, and it’s only been recently, and I am not trying to be disrespectful, but I am so very frustrated by how this has become such a big issue.”

Myers was not the only resident to have an issue with the new dog rules. Many women voiced issues with the times and stated that being a woman, they did not feel comfortable on the beach alone from 8 to 9 p.m. due to it getting dark around 8:30 p.m. 

“Walking Willard is another vital part of my life for my dog and for myself, making both of us happy and healthier beings in this crazy world we live in now,” said resident Lisa Badger. “The limiting summer evening hours for off-leash walking only between 8 to 9 p.m. upsets me. It is mostly dark then and some evenings get cold. Work prevents me from walking in the mornings, and some evenings are primarily my only option. I usually walk off-leash with my dog on Willard anywhere between 7 to 8:15 p.m. once Willard starts getting dark, I want to be off the beach for my safety. I had an incident at another land preservation last fall as it was getting dark, which has forced me to change my behavior as darkness descends while walking my dog. ” 

The committee considered several measures like restricting off-leash dogs to a particular section of the beach, requiring parking stickers, and making it compulsory for dog owners to obtain a beach pass. The leash time for Willard Beach was the only item that the council could not agree on by the citizen-driven Dogs and Sharing Public Spaces Advisory Committee.  

“I think there are a lot of people in our city who love Willard Beach and no longer go there for all kinds of reasons,” said Linda Cohen. ” I see so many people walking their dogs throughout the city of South Portland all over the place, and I don’t think those dogs are unhealthy just because they can’t get to the beach.

“Those people are finding a way to exercise their dogs, take care of their dogs’ needs and still spend quality time with their dogs. Everyone keeps saying to hire more park rangers, but it is not that easy to hire municipal employees these days; whether it’s park rangers or code enforcement officers, they just don’t exist. It’s not a perfect ordinance. Unfortunately, it may come back to us in the future, but I think it is the best we can do after weeks of talking and working on this. I’m sorry for those who are unhappy; I know they’re unhappy on all sides of the issue.” 

The council held three previous meetings regarding the debate between beachgoers and dog owners. On May 17, the council held a second reading and further amended the ordinance to require dogs on Willard Beach to be leashed from 7 to 8 p.m. during the summer months starting May 1 through Sept. 30. This substantive amendment necessitated another reading. At the May 3 meeting, the council considered the first reading of this ordinance. It also amended it to include a provision prohibiting unleashed dogs from chasing wildlife while correcting a few grammatical errors. 

For more information about the new dog rules for Willard Beach and Hinckley Pond, visit


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